BART Shooting Hearing Ends Without Decision

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OAKLAND-A hearing for a change of venue motion filed on behalf of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle ended Friday without a decision at Alameda County Superior Court.

The fourth and final session of the hearing began as Michael Rains, Mehserle's attorney, argued that protesters outside the courthouse would influence jurors with "hate-filled" signs if the case stays in Alameda County.

"I think (the protesters) can literally turn the spigot on and off," he said, adding that protesters would arrive en masse at the exact time jury members would walk into the courtroom.

Mehserle was charged with murder after the Jan. 1 shooting of Oscar Grant III at the Fruitvale BART station.

Judge Morris Jacobson asked Rains about the credibility of expert witness Craig New's testimony. New, who replaced witness Edward Bronson after the latter became ill, analyzed polling data used in the defense's argument that Alameda County is too biased to produce an impartial jury.

During his arguments, Rains frequently drew a parallel between his case and that of the four Los Angeles police officers involved in the Rodney King incident, whose trial received a change of venue from a court of appeals. Jacobson, however, said certain elements, particularly how media coverage has affected the case, are not analogous.

Rains also argued that comments made by several politicians referring to Mehserle as an "executioner" have affected his ability to receive a fair trial.

"Such characterizations have created a high degree of sensationalism," he said.

In his closing arguments, Rains asked the judge not to wait until jury selection to order a change of venue.

"Judge, of all the cases," he said. "This case can't wait. It's got to be now."

Before adjourning, Jacobson stated he will base his decision on personal experiences of protests, not information that has been relayed to him secondhand. The judge is expected to make his written decision as early as this week.

Cephus Johnson, Grant's uncle, expressed his belief that Jacobson will decide against the change of venue.

"He made it clear what he's going to base his decision on, and it's not going to be Rains's hearsay," Johnson said. "It's going to be all based on what he knows, what he experienced and what was given in this courtroom."


Contact Michael Garcia at [email protected]

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